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Competition Committee expects fair catch kickoff proposal to pass in May

Mike Florio and Chris Simms argue the pros and cons to the USFL and XFL revising the touchback rule on fumbles to give the ball back to the offense, and how it relates to the current NFL rules.

Owners tabled a proposal to spot the ball at the 25-yard line on a fair catch on a kickoff inside the 25-yard line. That currently is the college rule.

Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, though, expects a tweak to the language to get the rule passed in May when owners reconvene.

“We tabled the kickoff because the kickoff rule is a fair catch, right, so any fair catch inside the 25-yard line goes back to the touchback line which would be the 25. That’s the proposal. Mimics the college rule,” McKay said. “Uses the college language in many instances. There are some almost administrative changes that they would like to have discussed, which include if there’s a penalty on the play before -- a penalty on the scoring play -- then where does that 15 yards go? Right now it goes to the ball is placed on the 50 [for the kickoff]. Well, should we then say if you kick from the 50 and there’s a fair catch, the ball comes to the 25? In their mind, that’s not equitable and that is the college rule.

“What our data shows that if we kickoff from the 50, the ball usually gets returned to the 20, so maybe our thought would be that you put a note in there that says, ‘In the instance where there is a penalty, and it is enforced on the kickoff, if there’s a fair catch inside the 20, then it comes to the 20.’ So there are some things like that that we’ll talk about, but we will vote on something in May when we get back. I would anticipate that we will modify that rule this year. There’s no question the injury data is there on that play, and we want to take the play out, but we’ve got to give it every opportunity to succeed. This change helps that.”

NFL owners voted down a Competition Committee proposal to put the ball in play at the receiving team’s 25-yard line when a touchback occurs on a punt.

McKay said some questioned whether offenses would go for it more on fourth down across midfield because of the 5-yard change. He expects the rule to pass next year after more study and discussion.

“I think there’s coaches still nervous about special teams, the impact of special teams,” McKay said. “I don’t feel the impact on special teams on this proposal. Could somebody decide to go for it on fourth down because of the risk of that 5 yards? Yes. Do we anticipate a lot of that? No. It was a proposal that came to us late by the analytics people that we as a committee like.”